The Art of Walking – A Reflective debrief

I’ve always told my guest when walking out in the bush to read it like a book. Start on the horizon and scan from left to right and don’t forget to scan the trees close to you, there might be a Black Mamba looking back at you from its den. It's definitely a question of who is looking at who out in nature.

A constant reminder to stay vigilant. As J Bonheim says,

‘we need to practice moving and thinking at a speed that allows us to feel peaceful and grounded’.

As we move along the trail, don’t forget to take deep breaths. You generally smell an animal before you see it, or probably hear it first and then only see it.

the art of walking
Photographs © Scott Ramsey

This reminds me of times when a musth elephant bull is around or that notorious Black Rhino. Preparation is key and you must start introducing yourself to all the subtle and not-so-subtle odors of the Bushveld asap. From the subtleties of coconut-scented sage that has just been squashed by that leopard that you are trailing, to the intense smell of a fresh White Rhino midden.

Being in the moment

So, tell me what do you think of your toes? From the point of your nose to the tips of your toes, be aware of your whole body! After a couple of hours sauntering through the bush one’s mind tends to drift, it’s is almost as if you are on auto-pilot. Bring your guest’s minds back into the moment by reminding them to concentrate on their foot placement and to realize that the tips of their toes are connected to their brains, a PROWLING walking technique, so to speak. I love this quote by Sri Aurobindo,

‘we climb ill if we forget our base. The feet must be sure of their ground before the head can hope to kiss the skies’.

What does your walking reflect?

When we walk out in Wilderness areas preparation is obviously important but what sort of preparation do you set in that ‘chattering monkey mind’? Does your walking reflect your life? Dreams, sorrows, attitudes, habits, aliveness, balance, courage. There is so much to contemplate while walking and as H.D. Thoreau said,

‘You must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking.’

the art of walking
Photographs © Scott Ramsey

New horizons

Don’t get lost in thoughts but see it as an opportunity to direct your attention to a place that provides you with insight. See it as an occasion to understand the inner workings of our minds. Stop often on the trail and encourage your guests to lift their heads up and not just look down at their feet when walking. This takes practice and is definitely a metaphor for looking to new horizons and not being stuck in our ways.

Remind yourself often that you are walking on trails that have been treading on for centuries. Unmarked routes are only known by elephants, so-called immortal footprints. We are all on our own unique paths through life but our modern-day journeys have led us down a path of disconnect. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

‘few know how to take a walk.’

The qualifications are:

  1. Plainclothes
  2. Old shoes
  3. Eye for nature
  4. Good humor
  5. Vast curiosity
  6. Good speech
  7. Good silence
  8. Nothing too much
the art of walking
Photograph left © Scott Ramsey & Photograph right © Christoff Els

Time is art, spend it wisely  – Mayan Quote –

Walking well tunes the body and relaxes the mind. Remember life is too short to waste it on speed. Walking takes longer, it stretches time and prolongs life. The term ‘African time’ has been used in jest for years to refer to the relaxed approach to time in Africa, one that prioritizes relationships and experience over revenue and productivity. Many people are turning back to values and wellbeing. Slow food and slow living. Let’s all strive to slow down and bring out our inner tortoise.

Alan McSmith says,

‘wilderness is an all-encompassing term. It embraces values of empathy, reverence, and harmony, and evokes images of purity, integrity, and respect’.

I’ve often found my guests worried about walking out in the wilderness and it’s vital that you remind them that nature is not “OUT TO GET YOU”. Alan reminds us,

‘that the very basis of who we are, as a species, lies close to the earth and it is during connections with wild places that we recognize our primeval selves, and rejoice in the affinity’.

Let’s develop an understanding that these animals are in our blood and that the landscape is in our skin.

This poem by Carl Sandburg celebrates this idea …

WILDERNESS

There is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood – I keep the wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silvery-grey … fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … machinery for eating and grunting … machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun – I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I come from salt-blue-water-gates … I scurried with shoals and herrings … I blew water spouts with porpoises … before the land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … hairy under the armpits … ready to sing and give milk … waiting – I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and I got them from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart – and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman child heart: it is a father and mother

And lover: it comes from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where – for I am the Keeper of the Zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and I kill and I work: I am a pal of the world: I come from the WILDERNESS.

Test your newfound walking skills and join EcoTraining’s Wilderness Trails Skills Course 

Imagine finding yourself out in the African bush … For 6 days, explore the African Wilderness on foot with all your belongings on your back. You will be immersed in nature and become part of the natural world and be changed forever.

About the Author: 

David Havemann started his conservation career with a diploma in Nature Conservation and after a year abroad, worked at Jock of the Bushveld Lodge in the Kruger National Park.

After a brief diversion to do Pilates instruction, he became an environmental education officer with the Wildlife Environmental Society in KwaZulu-Natal.

Since then David has guided guests for lodges in other Big 5 game reserves and is now loving being back in the educational world of the environment.

Currently, David is the Training Manager at EcoTraining.